Last week we conducted an informal inquiry or small survey into how people feel when they see a homeless person sitting on the street or in a doorway. Likewise, we wanted to find out how a homeless person feels when people walk by looking down on them or looking the other way for instance, as if they didn’t exist.
It turned out that it was much easier to ask a homeless person how they felt than to stop a passerby in his or her tracks and put the question to them.
We had formulated two questions: “How does it make you feel seeing a homeless person sitting on the street” and to the homeless person: “How does it make you feel seeing people passing by, looking down on you or looking the other way”.
Lisa, the homeless lady we interviewed said she felt worthless, invisible and unwanted. We anticipated these answers.
When I asked a boy who had just brought some water for Lisa he said: ” What do you mean?” It was quite obvious he felt uncomfortable speaking about his feelings, what to speak about how he felt towards a homeless person.
Next we ‘interviewed’ a woman, Michelle, who had just spent considerable time talking with Lisa and affectionately hugging her. We were drawn into a really nice conversation. She said she worked with Lisa many years ago but Lisa lost her job and became homeless.
Now the obvious thing is, this can happen to anyone. We should therefore be very careful categorising and judging homeless people because everything is in flux, today with a job and tomorrow homeless or today homeless and tomorrow having a job. In short, they are just people like you and me who have, on account of unfortunate circumstances, fallen into a difficult situation and became homeless.
Michelle also talked about her experience in America and the homeless problem there. She said the weather, especially in California, is a plus but support is literally non existent. We hope we will keep in touch with Michelle and do some networking in the near future.
Next we interviewed a young couple who had just brought sandwiches for Lisa. They said they felt sad and not good when seeing a homeless person.
Of course we realised we had only spoken to favourable people who were ready to engage with the homeless and develop a relationship with them. It would be significantly more difficult to interview someone with a negative attitude who was just passing by and entering the restaurant literally two metres away. We clearly understood those limitations of our survey.